BY Jimoh Attah
When the President of the Court of Appeal (PCA), Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, made herself the chairperson of the five-man Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, there was so much anxiety in the political circles. There have been protests in Abuja with call on her to step down, security men barricading busy ways and general anxiety among Nigerians.
Foremost, there were concerns that with Bulkachuwa on the panel, there would be influences and compromises that would make the verdict of that tribunal unfair to some party.
It was for this that she was forced to step down so neutral justices would proceed with the case. Justice Bulkachuwa recused self from the tribunal since May 22, 2019. It was generally expected that she would immediately name a substitute. She has not till this moment.
Meanwhile, the tribunal which has only 108 days to rule on the matter has already lost about 100 days. Opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar have challenged the victory of President Muhammadu Buhari and his All Progressives Congress (APC) at the February 23, 2019 election. It has prayed the tribunal to upturn the victory.
Instead of giving the complainants justice, Justice Bulkachuwa appears to be playing power game. We should not be unmindful of the fact that she wields enormous powers. The constitution affords her exclusive powers to appoint judges to serve. Not only the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, Bulkachuwa is one to oversight all the election petition tribunals sitting across the country. If she would not expeditiously handle the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal at the centre, then we should imagine what happens with the panels sitting in far away and obscure places in the country.
The biggest worry is appears to be treating the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal with levity. How do I mean? She penciled down her name as head of the tribunal but did not see the need to include seniors like her in bench of the Court of Appeal. As a presidential election tribunal, adjudicating for the highest office in the land, one expected that highly rated and most experienced justices would be selected.
This is the first time we are having this issue. Since the return of democracy in 1999 – not so long a time for us to forget, we could see that the PCA, his second-in-command and very senior justices would hear the presidential election petitions. Former PCA Umar Abdullahi did constitute Presidential Election Petition Tribunals without any crisis. What has changed now?
Instead of following the tradition, Justice Bulkachuwa chose herself, went down the ladder to choose number 8, 25, 44 and… to constitute the tribunal for adjudication over a highly staked election. Justices who had heard electoral matters over the years and garnered huge experiences were excluded. If for lack of requisite experience the junior justices fail to deliver justice as at when due, let it be known where to place the blame.
It appears cleverly done it to hoodwink us. Assuming she chooses a justice that PDP might not be comfortable with and there is protest, another long process of recuse will begin while the clock continues to tick against the complainant. At the end, the substantive matter will not be heard and Atiku with his PDP will bite their finger.
When she was forced to step down from the tribunal, she resorted to whipping up of sentiments in order to appear good in the eyes of feminists. She attributed the call for her to recuse herself as bias against the womenfolk. We all know well that neither Atiku nor PDP mentioned Justice Bulkachuwa’s sex as reason for the concern. Atiku said for the fact that Justice Bulkachuwa is related to senior APC members, there was likelihood of her relating the tribunal’s thoughts with her APC associates. This is a thing that will trouble any sane being because Bulkachuwa’s relatives are interested party in the case.
This will therefore, take us to the question, what is the scorecard of Justice Bulkachuwa as PCA, as she is close to retirement? How well has she performed as first female President of the Court of Appeal for that matter?
Curiously, Justice Bulkachuwa who stopped sitting regularly upon becoming the PCA suddenly appointed herself chairperson of the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal thereby creating crisis. Why the sudden interest in justice delivery?